Eyewitness: NSW Police attack peaceful demonstration against weapons exports to Israel

November 23, 2023
Mounted police charge peaceful protesters. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Most mainstream news reports about the November 21 demonstration in Port Botany against the export of weapons to Israel were biased against the Palestinian people.

The news described the demonstration as “violent”. However, the only violence came from police, who attacked peaceful protestors sitting on the ground.

New South Wales Labor has said more than once that it considers the ongoing mass weekly demonstrations against Israel’s genocide in Gaza to be financially and politically costly.

It is trying to delegitimise and stop this movement, and the mainstream media is helping with its propaganda. That is why it did not report the Port Botany demonstration fairly.

I was a participant in the protest and this is what I witnessed.

The protest was organised by the Palestine Justice Movement (PJM). First, we gathered in a nearby public parking lot. Then we decided to move the gathering to the port gate.

At first, the police refused, but under pressure from the 350 people, the police opened a small crossing to cross. That is how we arrived at an intersection leading to the main gate of the port.

Here, the police lined up to prevent any further progress towards the port gate.

Initially, there were about 30 police but, after about 15 minutes, three busloads more arrived and surrounded us from the back and two sides. In all, about 100 police, including 10 mounted police, were sent.

Ahmed Abadla, a protest organiser, tried to negotiate with the police to allow us to advance towards the gate. The police commander refused and told us we had five minutes to end the protest and clear off the road.

Sister Jana, another protest organiser, encouraged us to sit on the ground and chant slogans. She introduced speakers from the Palestinian and Arab communities, as well as officials and members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). 

The only violence at this peaceful rally, which drew about 500 people at its peak, happened when some police began to push a group of protesters who were at the entrance to the road to the port gate. When they peacefully refused to leave, the police attacked them physically and made arrests.

A police commander announced that protesters must evacuate and mounted police joined the attack. The 10 police horses came from the left side and started pushing everyone onto a tiny footpath.


Photo: Zebedee Parkes
The police violence did not discriminate: there were elderly people, children and women with younger ones and prams who rushed to safety. The fact that police did not give demonstrators who wished to leave sufficient opportunity to do so safely made people very angry.

After that, protesters moved to a public park nearby and Sister Asala Al-Sayara invited people to eat maqluba (Palestinian rice dish) and kunafa (Palestinian dessert) and to sit in the park for as long as possible.

According to volunteer lawyers, about 25 people were arrested. A number were released after paying a fine and agreeing to bail conditions which included not to object to police decisions. The rest of the detainees were later released.

The PJM condemned the police for using excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Labor is rushing in new laws to give police more power to lay charges against people for threats and incitement to violence based on race and religion.

Labor officials have refused to respond to the many testimonies (well-documented with photos and videos) of the excessive violence used against the demonstrators.

This demonstration was peaceful and its objective was just: to prevent the export of weapons to Israel, for a real ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and to hold Israeli officials accountable for the war crimes they committed.

We will continue to demonstrate against Australian companies that support the racist regime in Israel.

[Khaled Ghannam is a Palestinian-Australian and a member of Socialist Alliance.]

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